ALBANY, Ga. -- As featured speaker for the Dougherty County Kiwanis Club on Monday, Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson pulled a lot of laughs in her account of legal issues through the years.
"We have certainly come a long way from the Georgia courts in the early days of the colony," Stephenson said. "Along with rum, slaves and Catholics, lawyers were banned entirely and judges pretty much had free reign, sending people to the stocks for what today would seem trivial offenses."
According to Stephenson, when Nelson Tift wrote to obtain a charter for Albany in 1838, he claimed the settlement to be in danger of being "run over or driven out by gamblers, drunkards and lepers, without sufficient laws to restrain them."
"Since then, Albany is ruled by a mayor and a city council," Stephenson said, "so now we don't have to worry about criminals, drunkards or lepers."
Stephenson said that as fast as changes may be coming, laws have to keep up with advancements of society.
"Look at what artificial insemination has done to probate law," Stephenson said. "It used to be you at least knew who your children were when you died. Now, the state Legislature had to enact a law where any heirs to your estate have to be born within 10 months of your death.
"You have couples suing each other for custody of frozen embryos. There's even a new technology called DNA swap, where they use the mitochondria from a donor added to the mother's nucleus, fertilized by the father so the result is a three-parent baby. Our birth certificates can't keep up."
Stephenson mentioned a case in England where a single man -- the head of a fertility clinic -- was discovered to have fathered more than 600 babies.
"Imagine if some of the children grow up in the area and have children together," she said. "The genetic problems would be multiplied."
"And just when does a person die, exactly?" Stephenson asked. "The Legislature has let us down in this area. You've got zombies, vampires and other members of the undead class who need to have their estates transferred or they'll just continue to pay income tax and capital gains."